Posted by: Alastair Rosie | October 21, 2012

Part 10 The Road Back


The Road Back comes after the central ordeal and usually involves a chase scene, the villain or one of his minions chasing our hero. In Titanic Rose has gone into the belly of the ship to rescue Jack, which is the equivalent of going into the belly of the whale or dying. She has fled from the lifeboat, spurned her fiance, Cal and fought tooth and nail to get to him. Once she’s rescued Jack it’s time to find the road back. In Titanic however the road back has many twists and turns and at first they are not running from villains but trying to escape a sinking ship. Arguably Cal’s pursuit of them towards the end with a gun is overdone to the point of silliness.
The Road Back can however be shorter. In Terminator 2, Sarah, John and the Terminator have destroyed Cyberdyne, but just as they are about to flee the police arrive and then the T3, who has been hunting John since the start of the movie. The heroes must now escape with the prize, the chip and the hand, the only parts of the Terminator that remained from the first movie. Their flight will take them into a furnace in a reenactment of the climax from the first movie.
In Notting Hill the Road Back is even shorter, beginning where William rejects Anna’s offer to get to know each other again. He is sitting in a restaurant belonging to one of his friends that has now closed, a symbol of death. His sister is sitting next to him and she has just announced the night before that she is getting finally getting engaged. William at first gets encouragement from his friends for his stand against Anna until his sister’s fiance, Spike races in and upon hearing that William has turned out Anna says, “you daft prick.” This bolt from the blue sends all of them racing to find Anna and hopefully reverse his act of madness. The chase scene here isn’t that long, a mere five minutes of film time compared to Titanic’s Road Back footage.
Basically your heroine has found the elixir, the sword, the precious jewel or something abstract like her self respect or a new identity but before she can claim it for herself she must first make her way out of this special world and back home. The special world might be a cave, a sinking ship or a real special world like the one in Contact where Elly meets an alien who has taken her father’s appearance to pass on a message to humanity. She wants to stay on this planet, she has so many questions but he tells her she has to go back to Earth because this is the way their kind have done it for thousands of years. Once back on Earth of course she finds that while she was gone for twenty two hours, the ship actually fell straight into the net. The cameras there recorded three minutes of footage as opposed to Elly’s twenty two hours of static. Her Road Back now involves convincing sceptical scientists that she really did leave the planet for twenty two hours.
The Road Back is a time to either smooth away the rough edges or give the villain one last chance to defeat your hero, thus forcing them to go through more changes, perhaps lose a few companions along the way. It can be long and drawn out or short but it keeps your reader turning the page and stops the viewer from switching channels. One thing to avoid is what I call the un-killable villain, who just keeps on coming back again and again. In recent years Hollywood has done this scenario to death a thousand times over to the point it’s a cliché. If you’ve killed your villain when the hero seized the sword then invent another villain or use one of your hero’s companions to try and stop the hero from starting on the Road Back.
So what happens on the Road Back in your story? Is there a long drawn out chase? A climb to the top of the mountain? A final confrontation with an angry parent? Or something completely different?

Other examples of the Road Back.

The flight of the balloon in Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and Toto get left behind.
John Dunbar’s attempt to retrieve his diary, resulting in his capture in Dances With Wolves.
Langdon and Sophie’s escape from Teabing at Westminster in Da Vinci Code.
Jason leaving Marie to go after Treadstone in the novel version of The Bourne Identity, I’m referring to the novel version rather than the butchered movie version.



  1. I love these posts – I can always see where things fit in, in both books and movies 😉 well done!

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